Friday, April 12, 2019

Sermon for the Committal Eucharist for Bishop Donald Hultstrand

Springfield Cathedral, 12 April 2019

When I was a senior seminarian, thirty years ago, if you had asked me to free-associate with the words “Diocese of Springfield,” probably the first thing that would have come into my mind would have been the seventh bishop of the diocese, Bishop Chambers, who, in retirement, had gotten slightly famous for his role in the Anglican drama of the 1970s. But the second thing that would have entered my mind would have been, “Ah, that’s the diocese whose bishop is known for his teaching and enthusiasm around prayer.” Indeed, the ninth bishop of Springfield, Donald Maynard Hultstrand, was, if anything, a man of prayer, and it is my honor to now serve on the board of two organizations that meant a great deal to him—the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer, and the Living Church Foundation. When I was elected the 11th Bishop of Springfield in 2010, I knew that I wanted all my living predecessors to be at the consecration, and I was elated that, when I called Bishop Hultstrand, he was eager for the same thing. I will always treasure a photo of him placing the miter on my head on that occasion. I feel as though I follow a giant, in whose steps I am not worthy to tread.

I still carry an image in my visual memory of Bishop Hultstrand visiting Nashotah House when I was a student there, standing at the end of a cloistered walkway; he must have been there to preach or to speak at an event. Little would I have imagined this moment then, as we are gathered to commit his mortal remains to the earth, and take our final leave of him until we are reunited in the world to come. There was, of course, a rather larger gathering at Christ Church in Greenville, South Carolina back in January. For quite understandable reasons, Ann wanted to wait until the severity of winter in the midwest had abated somewhat before coming up here for the committal. And I’m glad we are doing this. It is fitting that the Diocese of Springfield have an opportunity to honor a shepherd who served it with distinction. Even though he’s been gone from the diocese for some 27 years, there are still people around who remember him and love him. I’m very glad we are here.

Our ultimate job this afternoon is quite simple—to commit Don Hultstrand’s mortal remains to their resting place as they await the Day of Resurrection. Before we get to that, though, following the ancient custom of the Church, we are celebrating the Eucharist. We have heard the Word of God read. You are now, I hope, hearing the gospel proclaimed. We are about to engage in some serious prayer. And then we will take bread and wine—which will serve as surrogates for ourselves, our souls and bodies—we will take bread and wine and we will offer them, offer ourselves, to the God the Father in prayer, and then we will receive them back as gifts, gifts of God’s very own deathless life.

Why is it, though, that, from earliest times, the Christian community has done this—precisely this—for those of its own who fall asleep in Jesus? It’s because of what happens between the taking of the bread and wine and the receiving of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Right after saying “Do this for the remembrance of me,” the celebrant lifts up, elevates, the host, and then the chalice. In that action of lifting up, the celebrant is lifting up none other than God the Son and presenting God the Son to God the Father. The celebrant, on behalf of the whole community of the baptized, is making the only perfect offering, the offering of the crucified Christ, the offering of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The community, in that action, is, in effect, “pleading Christ” on its own behalf and on behalf of those for whom it prays; in this case, today, Donald Maynard Hultstrand. As holy a man as Bishop Hultstrand was, he was yet a sinner, as are we all. As much progress as he made in his journey back to God during his time in the world, he was not yet fully conformed to the image of Christ. He was still a work in progress, as are we all.

So when we lift up the Body and Blood of Christ in this liturgy, we are asking God the Father to not look on Don Hultstrand as he is in himself, but as he is in Christ. We hold up the consecrated bread and wine and say, “Father, look not on us, but look on Jesus, and on us only as we are in him.” Of course, in the case of someone departed this life, we can’t know very many of the details. But the Church has always prayed for the departed; that much is clear. We know that our loved ones are in the nearer presence of God, that they continue to grow in grace, grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord, that their holiness is being made perfect, that they are moving ever from glory to glory. And so, celebrating the Eucharist for them is the greatest and most effective thing we could possibly do.

As we commit the mortal remains of Donald Maynard Hultstrand to the earth, we do so in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, and in the joyful confidence that the Lord is even now doing more for him than we can ask or imagine. And when we reach our hands across the communion rail to receive the sacrament, we are reaching into Heaven itself, where Donald, and all those who have gone before us in faith, are being fed from the same banquet table.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

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